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Not many people come to her room at the hospital, just doctors and nurses, but there are too many for her liking nonetheless. She doesn't have many visitors, but she still has more than she expects - no one even really knew she existed, except her father. She wishes he was the only person allowed in her room, but that's impossible now.

The visits from Apollo and Trucy and Mr. Wright are bearable, if awkward. They don't mind if she sketches while they talk to her, and so she does. Sometimes she pretends they're on a television screen, and she draws a happy ending to their story, where everyone is all together, and everyone's father is still alive.

It's the three of them who come to take her home when she's finally discharged, and that's almost a happy ending. Except that none of them have a way to get her there, except for bicycles. Then the prosecutor pulls up, the one who looks just like that person - the one they say tried to kill her, and did kill her father - and he gives her a bright smile as he offers her a spare helmet, scooting forward on the seat of his motorcycle.

She wakes up back inside the hospital, not in her room but in the process of being wheeled down a hallway, surrounded by so many concerned faces that she squeezes her eyes closed again and prays they'll stop talking. They don't, until she pleads with them aloud.

Another night, then. The next morning, it's Trucy and Apollo and Mr. Wright again, and they tell her Klavier's very sorry. He would have apologized in person if he could be sure it wouldn't upset her again, they say, and she wishes she could apologize in person too.

They're on a bus. She's never been on a bus before, and it's dirtier than she thought it would be. Or maybe that's just the part of the floor she's staring at, the part around her shoes.

Mr. Wright said something about it being the middle of the morning commute, which she doesn't entirely understand, but it looks like he was trying to explain why the bus has so many people on it. Why doesn't matter nearly so much as the simple fact that there are so many people on it - some of them talking amongst themselves, some staring ahead like soft statues that sway with the motion of the vehicle.

She can't look at them, or listen to their conversation. If she really tries, she can reduce it to an unintelligible buzz like radio static, but it's loud - much too loud. So she stares at her feet and the dirty floor around them, hugs her sketchbook, and tries not to think about how many people there are all around her.

There's a loud dinging sound that startles her, just after she realizes that she's starting to feel very sick, and she looks up dizzily to see Apollo regarding her with concern, one hand on the line that tells the driver to stop.

Trucy suggests, since they're walking the rest of the way, that they go somewhere and get a drink, or maybe some lunch, or dessert, or something to celebrate. She shakes her head repeatedly, and asks them to just take her home.

They ask if she'll be okay alone, and she says yes just to make them go away.

She's not.

Apollo and Trucy stop by a couple of days later, which she's grateful for. She can't stand the quiet of her father's studio when she's the only one there, and she's left the television on with the volume low since she returned, even when she sleeps.

They brought flowers. She washes out a large cup that her father used to rinse his brushes in, and sets them on the table among the drafting equipment, because she's not sure where else to put them. She's not sure where to put visitors, either, so she and Apollo sit together on a wooden bench while Trucy settles on the floor at their feet.

She's not used to having more than one person there. It seems like anytime there was someone other than her father there, something bad happened. And never before was there anyone in the studio who talked so loudly as the two of them.

She shrinks into herself, and Apollo asks if she's okay. She nods. It should be okay - she knows they're not going to hurt her.

Their voices are so loud. They're talking more to each other than to her now, and that's fine, because she doesn't think she can speak. Finally, when she can't take it anymore, she does - she asks them to please leave.

The two of them exchange glances, then start to get up. She feels bad, because she's clearly made them feel bad, and tries to apologize. Apollo shakes his head and gives her a smile, and assures her it's okay. Trucy takes her hand for a moment, and squeezes it. When she opens it again, there's a business card there, folded in two, and it has a telephone number.

After they're gone, she cries, and she doesn't know why.

She calls the number Trucy gave her the next day, and asks if she could come to the studio just for a second. Trucy agrees.

She's very happy with the elated smile on Trucy's face and the excited exclamation when the younger girl sees the present she made - a painting of the bouquet they brought her - and promises they'll hang it up at the office.

True to her word, Trucy stays only a little while. Vera is, to her surprise, disappointed.

She cheers up, though, when Apollo calls later to tell her thank you as well, and during the course of conversation asks - with extreme hesitance - if it was something she made herself, or if it was copied? She reminds him that it's the bouquet they gave her the day before, and finds herself laughing quietly as he stammers, realizing the obvious problem with his question.

Mr. Wright gets on the line to give his thanks too, and then asks if she needs anything.

Her father? An explanation of why everyone is so different and loud and complicated outside her apartment?


She tells him she's fine, and they say their goodbyes.

There's hardly any food in the cupboards, or in the refrigerator.

...Her father used to have groceries delivered to the studio. In prison, and in the hospital, people brought food to her. She knows that there are places to get food, but she has no idea where they are, except for her own cupboards and refrigerator.

She eats saltines and canned fruit for two days, and then when the saltines run out, she finally calls again.

Trucy asks if she wants to come over for dinner, and even though Vera's stomach is growling, she hesitates before she says yes. Trucy assures her it's no trouble to come by and show her the way.

Her picture of the bouquet is hanging on the wall of the office when she and Trucy arrive. It looks like the Wrights (or whatever the household is, since Apollo is there too) don't have a lot of food either, but the macaroni and cheese that Mr. Wright makes tastes better than saltines and canned fruit. He lets her put some in a little plastic dish, and some fresh vegetables in a bag, and then walks her home.

When she gets there, she's a little surprised to realize that she was not only able to eat around so many people and so much noise, but that she hadn't been so content since her father died.

The macaroni and cheese is gone two days later, and the fresh vegetables and canned fruit too. Mr. Wright is the one who picks up the phone this time.

Vera's only been to the Anything Agency office once, but she thinks he's not going the same way Trucy did - and sure enough, when they're close enough to see the sign, Mr. Wright points out a large building. They're going to a grocery store. Vera doesn't remember ever having been inside one before, and had no idea there was such a store so close to the studio, but she's seen them on television. She doesn't think she'll like it, but she follows him in anyway.

The lights are too bright, and there are so many people, even if they're not squished together tightly like on the bus. Mr. Wright takes a plastic basket from a stack by the entrance, and gives it to her, then takes up another, looking up at the signs hanging from the ceiling, telling her they'll start in dairy and work back.

The first aisle is relatively safe, in the corner of the store, and Mr. Wright asks her questions about what she likes to eat. She's too tense to answer, but he picks out a few things he calls "the basics", and says he can show her where to find the mac and cheese she liked the other night too.

They're in frozen foods. Someone goes by her on the left, then the other way on the right, and they're too close, and when she backs up she bumps into someone else. She stops in the aisle, curling her arms around herself.

Mr. Wright notices that she's lagging behind after a moment, and comes back to find her standing perfectly still in a puddle of the eggs that broke when she dropped the basket. The freezers aren't for the shoppers, he tells her, but for the food - and then admits that wasn't a very good joke as he puts an arm around her gently and steers her back towards the big glass doors.

She waits outside, moving from a very visible bench by the doors to huddling behind the rows of carts so that no one will see her. Including Mr. Wright, when he comes back with his arms full of paper bags, but she stands up and waves to him, and then he sees.

When they're safely at home, and he's helping her put the groceries away, he tells her that he'll help her shop next time too - but next time she has to stay with him. She doesn't know what to say.

The groceries last longer than she would have expected. But then again, she's only cooking for one person now.

Also, she keeps getting invited over to dinner.

At first it's just Apollo, Trucy, and Mr. Wright. One day there's a woman and a younger girl about Trucy's age, both dressed in strange, old-fashioned clothing, who are old friends of Mr. Wright's. She's seen pictures of people dressed like this, but didn't know that people dressed like that anymore. For all that they look like something out of an ancient painting, they talk normally, and the older one is surprisingly without grace when it comes to devouring the burgers they're having.

With all the noise and the number of people crowded into the office, Vera can't relax enough to eat her own. Everyone's so noisy, and that might be a good thing, because no one notices that she's completely silent.

Except Apollo, who's looking at her oddly, almost the same way he did in court. But then, instead of asking her questions she doesn't want to answer, he just smiles at her and offers the ketchup. She smiles back, and accepts. She manages to eat half her own burger before she has to excuse herself to the hallway and take deep breaths.

Another day, there's a man who joins them - again wearing old-fashioned clothing, but this time more European than Asian. Unlike everyone else, he's not loud at all, and though at first his stern expression scares her a little, he smiles when he looks at Mr. Wright, and when Mr. Wright makes what seems to be a rude comment about his choice in clothing, he only laughs and retaliates with a mocking remark about Mr. Wright's old hat. Vera thinks he must be all right, especially since dinner is more toned down with him there. She cleans her plate.

Each time she comes over for dinner, someone comes to pick her up from the studio and walk with her, and someone walks home with her when they're finished. It's easier to talk to people when it's just two of them, and she's coming to know more about them all. Mr. Wright used to be a lawyer like Apollo, and then he spent a lot of time playing cards, but he's getting involved in law again. Apollo elaborates, and says he used to be kind of a legend... but when they first met, he seriously had to wonder why, because he seemed completely hopeless. He thinks he's starting to understand now, though... Vera isn't sure what makes someone a good lawyer, but she thinks Mr. Wright makes a good father.

Trucy says so too - that Mr. Wright is the best daddy she's ever had. And that's when, after Vera asks how many daddies has she had, the biggest revelation comes out - Trucy is a Gramarye. Just like Troupe Gramarye.

Vera can hardly believe it. She'd recognized the cape and hat, of course, but she'd thought Trucy was just a big fan, like she was when she was a kid. The daughter of Zak and Thalassa... But how, she asks, could someone be a more amazing father than Zak Gramarye, the best magician in the world?

Trucy quiets a little, and tells her that she thought her first daddy was amazing too, when she was little. Now that she's older, she recognizes that he was a good magician... but not so good a daddy. He did a lot of things that weren't very good for her. On the other hand, she says, brightening, Mr. Wright is a terrible pianist - but an awesome daddy, who'd never leave her or let her be hurt. He'd sooner die than let anyone hurt her.

Just like Vera's own father, and Vera says so. He was always thinking of her, up until the day he was killed, with a trap meant for her.

Trucy's eyes widen suddenly, and when Vera asks why, she hesitates for a second before explaining that she just realized - the same person that killed her first daddy killed Vera's daddy too.

They're still thinking about this in silence when they reach the studio.

Vera likes the quiet, but it seems wrong when it's Trucy, so instead of saying good night, she asks if Trucy would like to see some of her old sketchbooks, from when she was younger, and she used to draw pictures of Troupe Gramarye all the time. That gets a loud, emphatic response, and Vera smiles just as brightly as she goes to get them.

They giggle over the old drawings for a long time (Vera thinks they're terrible now, but Trucy seems to think they're phenomenal), and then when Vera's run out of pictures to show her, she mentions that she has videotapes and DVDs of lots of performances and TV specials - her father bought them for her with the money she made with her paintings, since it was really hers anyway...

Neither of them is sure how long they've been lounging around on the floor watching when Mr. Wright calls, just to make sure they're okay and that they got to the studio safely. Trucy grins at Vera after she assures him they're fine, and whispers to her that this is what makes him a good daddy. Vera thinks she agrees.

The next time she's over for dinner, Vera thinks maybe she made a mistake, because after the meal, when she's getting tired and talks of heading home, Mr. Wright says she must know the way by now, right?


Trucy gives Vera her cell phone for the night as they're going down the stairs, and she shows her how to use the presets, which number will dial straight to the office. Then she waves, and the door closes.

There are still people on the streets, even though it's getting dark. Vera doesn't mind people so much now, but she doesn't know any of these people, and she crosses the street several times to avoid coming too close to someone on the sidewalk.

She crosses the street so many times that she suddenly isn't sure if she's going the right way, and she freezes, her mind racing. She's lost, she's never going to find the way home, there are strangers lurking in the shadows of the tall buildings, and there's a woman coming this way...

The woman asks if she's all right, and does she need help? Vera manages to stammer out a question - what street this is that she's on - and the woman tells her. Which direction does she need to go to find this other street, then? The woman points and tells her it's only a block further.

Vera thanks her, and takes off running. The woman was telling the truth, and she recognizes one of the old brick buildings at the next corner.

Trucy's cell phone rings, startling her, just as she's entering the studio. Trucy wanted to make sure she got home okay, and Vera thinks for a moment before saying that yes - she did.

Letters keep coming from places she doesn't know, addressed to her father. She thinks she knows what they are, but doesn't have any idea what to do about them, so she puts them in a drawer and tells herself that she'll ask someone sometime. She's afraid of the answer she'll get, though, because she knows what it's going to mean.

It's not the food that runs out first. She's out of laundry detergent, and dangerously low on toilet paper. She manages the best she can, with a box of tissue and wearing her clothes a few days at a time. After all, it's not like anyone's there to care, and if she's invited to dinner, she can just say 'not tonight', since she still has food.

Then it gets to be the second week of the month, and she feels herself cramping up, and curls up on the bathroom floor in misery when she realizes she only has two pads left. She doesn't want to go there again.

Finally she gives in and calls. Mr. Wright answers, and she can't bring herself to explain to him, so she asks for Trucy.

Both of them show up at her door half an hour later anyway, and there's no outward indication from either that anything's unusual as they usher her out the door.

They're not going to the grocery store. Vera can tell almost right away, now that she's spent a little more time outside the studio, and asks where they're going. Mr. Wright says they need to get some cash, and it isn't until then that Vera realizes he paid for her groceries himself last time.

And he's going to do it again, because she doesn't have any money. Her father had all the money, and she doesn't know where he kept it.

She's biting her nails when Mr. Wright leads her to the counter at the bank (and after what happened, it makes her nauseated but she can't stop), and for some reason tells the teller her name, and a string of numbers. The teller asks for ID, and Trucy and Mr. Wright look at her expectantly.

Seeing her confusion, Mr. Wright explains that he looked into it, and her father's bank accounts have been transferred to her. She'll need to prove her identity to get to the money, though.

...She doesn't have a driver's license, or a credit card, or any kind of identification. She never needed any. The only people who saw her face since she was a child were the handful who came to the studio, and her father introduced them.

Mr. Wright frowns, and says there has to be something. He looks frustrated, and Vera's shaking, knowing that she's upset this man who's been so good to her. She's shaking so hard that when Mr. Wright says they'll have to go back to the studio and look for something they can use, Trucy shakes her head and tells him no - she has a little cash, so they can just hit a convenience store real quick and take care of this whole thing later.

There's a drugstore nearby, and Trucy directs her, or rather leads her by the hand through the narrow aisles, asking if she has enough of this or that, commenting on other items, recommending brands. Vera clings to the sound of her voice like she clings to her hand, trying not to listen to or touch anything else. She has to let go when Trucy takes her to the counter at the front and pulls out her wallet.

Trucy has an ID card. Vera catches a glimpse of it as the wallet is lying open, discerning details as quickly as she does when she's making one of her copies, but it takes her a little longer to do the math. ...How is it that Trucy is so much younger than her, she wonders, when she knows so much more about how the world works?

Mr. Wright walks back to the studio with the two of them, and though both he and Vera have calmed down, Vera turns down his offer to help her look for some kind of identification. Trucy splits up the plastic bag of toiletries - she'd grabbed a few things for herself, too - and gives Vera a quick hug before they leave.

Vera can't be as upset by how the day turned out as she expected to be.

The next day, they come back, with Apollo too - they say the more eyes they have on the lookout, the quicker they'll find something that can clear up her financial situation, and the sooner they can go on that shopping trip. One more reason Vera wishes there weren't so many people in the studio.

She mostly sits by, uncertain of what they're even looking for, while her friends go through her father's belongings. One of the first places Apollo looks is in the drawer, and she flinches when he brings forth the pile of letters she'd been hiding. She knows that she'll get bad news when they're opened, and she tells him so.

Apollo bites his lip, looking reluctant, but insists that she can't go on hiding from it forever, or things will get really bad. He opens the first letter, and he and Mr. Wright look over it. Then they look to her with a little smile, and open the next. Apollo nods thoughtfully, and Mr. Wright laughs softly. They're not bills, he explains - they're receipts. Her father set up the utility bills to be paid automatically from his savings - the only thing she needs to do for the time being is to get in touch with the electric company and the phone company and so on and inform them that the accounts should be in her name now.

She has no idea what that really means, or how to do it. Apollo says it's no big deal - he can help her do it now if she wants. Mr. Wright points out that they'll probably ask for a number, which she doesn't know, and so they'd better keep looking for... something. Vera still doesn't know what they're looking for.

Whatever it is, Trucy finds it shortly afterward, in what Apollo and Mr. Wright say is a strange place - an envelope stuck underneath old receipts from their clients. A birth certificate, a social security card, and other official-looking documents. This is exactly what they needed, Mr. Wright says, and hands her the envelope. Time to go to the bank. And, he says, at some point to the DMV - but that can wait. Vera doesn't understand at all.

The three of them stare at her in shock when the teller reads her the balance of her father's - now her - bank accounts. Instantly concerned, she asks if she has enough to buy groceries - she doesn't really know what things cost. They stare at her some more before Apollo assures her that she does.

The amount that Mr. Wright advises her to withdraw seems awfully small in comparison to the number she was just read (she may not know how much food and detergent cost, but she can do math), but she supposes he knows best and repeats the number to the teller. The teller hands her the money and a receipt, and Vera feels... embarrassingly proud of herself for being able to do this, and to say thank you afterwards.

That lasts only until they're within sight of the grocery store. Vera doesn't realize her hand is creeping towards her mouth until Trucy is suddenly tugging it away, giving her a little smile and lacing their fingers together, playfully swinging their arms as they walk. As they're approaching the wide expanse of doors, Apollo looks at her with mild concern, and tells her it's a bad habit; she'd unconsciously started chewing the nails on her other hand. Trucy gives him a look, and suggests that her big brother follow her lead. Apollo sputters a bit, and his cheeks suddenly look like a wet watercolor painting upon which someone dropped a single large drop of red... but he does reach out to take her other hand, looking away. Trucy grins at Vera, like it's a joke, and Vera doesn't get it.

Especially not when they've just entered the store, and there are so many people. Vera suddenly feels dizzy, remembering the last time with humiliation...

But in the fuzziness, she remembers something else. Someone else. Someone much, much taller than her - she must have been very young - holding one hand, while her father held the other. She remembers a soft, fuzzy brown coat, and looking up to a waist slimmer than her father's.

She's standing still in the middle of the aisle again, and Mr. Wright has paused to look back at her, standing perfectly still between Trucy and Apollo, who halted with her. But this time... Vera thinks it's okay. No one can do anything to her when Trucy and Apollo are holding her hands - they would know if anything happened. And Mr. Wright is a good father, like hers, who wouldn't let anything bad happen to his daughter - who's holding hands with her. He'd protect her as well. ...In fact, Vera has a feeling that he and Apollo would protect her even if she wasn't attached to Trucy. And, for that matter, that Trucy could protect herself pretty well.

Mr. Wright has a cart this time, and the three of them follow, everyone making suggestions. There are a lot of foods Vera's never tried, because either she or her father did most of the cooking, and she mostly made the same things he had always made for her. She keeps asking, though, if she has enough money for that. Finally Apollo tells her flat-out - she's got way more money in the bank than he's made in his entire lifetime so far. She doesn't have to worry about what she spends today.

That's good, because even with the security of him and Trucy holding her hands, and Mr. Wright leading them onward through the crowded store, she's beginning to feel a little funny again. Apollo finally looks at her again - really looks at her - and suggests that they sit down for a little while. Mr. Wright just shrugs, and says it's a good thing they didn't start in dairy this time.

When she's settled on a bench by the deli, trying to catch her breath, Apollo stays by her side, still holding her hand. Mr. Wright is watching, leaning lightly on the cart, while Trucy paces back and forth in front of them, talking about when she first started doing magic in front of a crowd, at her school's talent shows and so on. She was never scared of people, but there were a lot of other would-be performers who had to back out because of nerves. So it's normal, it's no big deal.

Vera points out shakily that it's no wonder - Trucy has magic to protect her. She doesn't. ...Anymore.

Apollo squeezes her hand. Trucy gets more serious all of a sudden, leans down to address her where she's sitting hunched over on the bench. She wasn't born with magic, she says, even though she was born a Gramarye. Magic takes a lot of hard work, and she had to try over and over before she could get it right. And the most important part of doing magic doesn't really have anything to do with magic - it's confidence. You have to have confidence to have magic, and that's the really tough part.

It'll be the same way for Vera that it was for her, Trucy says. She'll have to try really hard, and maybe she won't be able to do it right away, but someday she'll have the most important part of magic. And then she'll be able to buy food by herself, and go for walks by herself, and maybe she'll even be able to show her artwork to a big crowd of adoring fans while they cheer and applaud...

When Vera opens her eyes, there's someone in a polo shirt with a logo standing over her in addition to Mr. Wright and Trucy and Apollo, and Mr. Wright is trying to explain to the woman that Vera's really okay, she's just a little frail, and she'll be fine in a moment if they give her some space. Still holding her hand, Apollo snaps something at the two of them, and they back off, and it's just Apollo and Trucy. Trucy doesn't say anything, just sits there by her head where they laid her on the bench, and Apollo's kneeling there, asking how she feels.

Vera doesn't answer right away. After a minute, she makes herself sit up, and asks what else they need to buy before she can go home. Apollo seems uncertain, but Trucy's smile is brighter than anything she's seen.

Mr. Wright's trying to help. He's given her tasks to work on, and even if Vera couldn't figure out what they were for, she would have been grateful just for something to do.

She has a computer; Mr. Wright told her to look into how she could acquire a state identification card, and where to go to get one. Now she knows why he mentioned the DMV, and that there's an office about a mile from the studio, and what she'll need to bring when she manages to get up enough nerve.

He's sent Trucy over for visits, with recipes for foods she might like - but for which she's lacking a few vital ingredients. They go to the store together, and Trucy stays with her while she finds what she needs. And then Trucy stays by her side, silent, as they go to the checkout lanes and Vera pays for her things. She even smiles back at the cashier, though the small talk still escapes her.

She's invited to dinner again, and Mr. Wright suggests that she wait downstairs, in front of her building, for someone to meet her. She watches the people along the sidewalk, nervous as they come closer and relieved as they pass and leave her behind - then realizes that one of the approaching people is Trucy. The next time he suggests that she should meet Trucy partway, and though she has to walk some ways alone, Vera finds it's not so bad.

Trucy's told her all about her show at the Wonder Bar, and one day Mr. Wright observes that Vera's never actually seen her act. Vera does want to see Trucy perform...

Apollo comes with her this time, though she's getting much better at going places alone. She's grateful, because once they get inside, the Wonder Bar is dark and crowded with college students and young professionals, full of strange noises and smells, and she doesn't see anywhere to sit that isn't close to someone else. Apollo points out the large stage at one end of the building, which is where Trucy performs, and he says there's a table up front for them. He just starts pushing his way through everyone - and suddenly she doesn't see him anymore, and there are people all around, brushing against her and bumping into her.

There are dark figures looming over her as she hunches down on the floor, covering her head, and then they're yelling at her, and touching her... Then there's a louder voice and all the voices and hands disappear. It's Apollo, and he's kneeling down beside her, and she tries to tell him through chattering teeth how scared she was when everyone was yelling and grabbing at her.

Apollo looks blank for a second, and then shakes his head. Nobody was yelling at her - they were yelling at him, because they saw the two of them come in together, and then she looked unsteady when he got too far ahead, and they thought she was going to pass out. They shouted to get his attention, to let him know something was wrong with her.

She looks up and peeks through her fingers, and the faces all around her don't look menacing or mocking, but concerned.

Apollo helps her to her feet, and asks if she wants to go home - he'd understand if she does. She wipes her eyes and thinks of Trucy, standing in front of all these people and knowing they're looking at her. She can't be on that stage like Trucy, but she can be one of the people in the audience, watching Trucy. She takes a deep breath and says no, and Apollo takes her hand and gives her a confident smile before he turns to show her to the table.

Vera realizes all of a sudden that if he's Trucy's brother, and Trucy is a Gramarye - that makes Apollo a Gramarye too. No wonder he can smile like that, and tell people to just back off, and stand up in a courtroom and fight like it's nothing. Even if he's not a magician, he has a kind of magic too, or at least the part of it that Trucy said was most important.

Not that Trucy considers herself a Gramarye anymore; since Vera held them up a little, the man is already introducing the main act of the night when they get to the table at the front, and he's introducing Trucy Wright. Vera doesn't think too long about this, because then there's a pop and a puff of smoke, and Trucy appears in the middle of the stage with a flourish.

Vera hasn't seen a Gramarye magic show for years and years, aside from her videotapes, which means she hasn't seen anything new. Trucy's doing some of the old tricks, and some brand new ones, and though there's none of the banter between Zak and Valant and Thalassa to make the crowd laugh, she has Mr. Hat to provide the one-liners. Vera laughs until she cries, and completely forgets about the hundred or so people all around her who are laughing too.

Until Trucy declares she needs a volunteer, and looks right at her. It's only Trucy looking at her just yet, and that's all right, but as Trucy beckons to her, her head cocked questioningly, Vera remembers who else will be looking at her if she stands up. Namely everybody. She shrinks back into her chair, shaking her head. Trucy turns her questioning smile to Apollo, who mutters something about still having petals in his pants from last time, and everyone around them snickers.

Finally Trucy picks a young woman who seems nearly as excited as Vera has been, and flowers immediately sprout out of the wand Trucy asks her to hold. Trucy scolds her as the audience laughs, and takes the flowers away, but then more appear the moment she turns away, and then again, and the audience laughs harder at Trucy's diagnosis of "premature magiculation". The woman - her name is Claire - is just too magical, Trucy says in exasperation, taking back the wand, and then more flowers sprout from her hair, out of her pant legs, out of the front of her shirt - everywhere. At the end of the trick, Trucy plucks them and makes a big bouquet to give to Claire before she goes back to her seat.

Trucy's more energetic than ever after the show, literally bouncing, and gives Vera a big hug, telling her how glad she is that she made it. Still slightly mesmerized, Vera stammers an apology for not helping her with the trick, and Trucy brushes it off - there are always plenty of volunteers. Someday, though, if she ever feels up to it...

That night, after stopping by the Wrights' briefly for a late-night snack and a little winding down, Vera walks home by herself, not paying nearly as much attention to the occasional people in the streets as to the images in her head. She stays up until nearly dawn, sketching pictures of Trucy and herself covered with flowers.

The next time someone calls, it's Apollo. Apollo usually doesn't call her, it's almost always Mr. Wright or Trucy - and the awkwardness in his voice, his reluctance to explain why he called, makes Vera worry. She's watched movies and TV, and she's read books. ...She's fairly relieved when it turns out that he's only asking her if she'd be willing to come to the courthouse to make a statement regarding Mr. Gavin, who's apparently made an appeal of some sort. Ideally, they'd like her to testify in front of the court, but he understands that it might be too much for her.

Vera thinks about the crowded Wonder Bar, and Trucy standing up on the stage. She remembers the courtroom - small and not so densely populated. She remembers feeling scared, and sick, and then her consciousness slipping away...

She had a reason then, though. And if she's been able to endure the same feelings in other places, where it was her own fears that made her faint, and she's overcome that fear - surely she can do the same thing again.

Apollo asks if she's still there, and she tells him she'll testify.

The next day, she's at the courthouse, and there's the man she met seven years ago, sitting behind the bench, calm as he was that day. She can talk about that now, with only some hesitation, because she knows he lied to her when he gave her the magic charm - rather than protecting her, it nearly killed her. The judge asks for her to repeat her statements; Mr. Gavin, the defendant, gave her the nail polish that was found to be laced with atroquinine? She tells him yes, and draws a picture for the court as well, of the ghost she saw on his hand. She starts to tremble when Mr. Gavin stares at her, and starts to raise a hand to her mouth, and realizes that's the worst thing she could do in front of him.

Instead, she imagines herself with flowers in her hair. Trucy's magic is real, unlike his magic. She grips the edge of the witness stand and testifies that the letter with the poisoned stamp that killed her father came just after that job - and she knew it was from Mr. Gavin, because it was the only job of any kind that she'd had in a month, and they'd just talked about Troupe Gramarye.

Afterwards, Apollo's all smiles, telling her she did a wonderful job, and she's smiling back, and almost doesn't notice that someone's come up beside them. At first she doesn't recognize him, because his long hair is just pulled into a loose tail, and he looks tired. And this is good, because that means she's not scared from the moment she sees him. Prosecutor Gavin, she realizes, doesn't look much like his brother with his hair unstyled. He looks like himself for a moment when he flashes her a smile and says he's glad she could make it, but he still doesn't look like his brother.

He wants to take them out for lunch, but Vera declines - she's starting to be able to tell well in advance now when she's reaching her limits, and she's had enough of life outside her apartment for the day. Or at least she will have had enough by the time she's walked home.

Something important seems to be going on at the agency, because Trucy and Mr. Wright and Apollo aren't calling as regularly as they used to, and when they do, they all seem strangely serious. Even Trucy seems a little subdued when she asks if Vera wants to stay overnight - she's not sure when her father or Apollo are going to be home that night, if at all, and although she doesn't mind spending the night alone... tonight she just doesn't want to. Vera understands, and even if she's a little afraid of spending so long away from the studio, she doesn't want Trucy to be alone.

No one else is home when she gets there, and no one else comes home before the two of them find themselves yawning in front of the television. Trucy tells her Daddy said not to expect him, and Apollo might not come back either, and so they make up sleeping bags on her bedroom floor and turn in.

Vera can't sleep. There are too many strange noises, and unfamiliar shapes, and she knows the sounds her father's studio makes when no one is around, but the office is completely different, especially with the sound of Trucy breathing so close. She brought her sketchbook, though, and so she gets up and goes to the office proper, curling up on one of the couches and absently turning the shapes of unfamiliar shadows on the walls into interesting and harmless objects on the pages.

Then she hears voices from somewhere, getting closer, and the louder one is only vaguely familiar. After a strange thud and some muttering, she hears keys in the lock. If the door opens, it has to be someone with a key... right?

The door opens. So it's not anyone breaking in, but it still sounds all wrong - the footsteps are uneven and faltering, and she can't make any sense out of the louder voice, except that it sounds unhappy. The shadow she sees in the hallway, once the light is flipped on, looks large and clumsy. Her breath catches in her throat until they get close enough that she can see who's coming, and it's two people, the taller leaning heavily on the shorter. And the shorter is Apollo.

When Trucy appears from the bedroom, asking what's with all the noise, the other lifts his head, and it's Prosecutor Gavin. Not that Vera would have recognized him, if she hadn't seen him a few days before with his hair unstyled and looking exhausted. Now he looks exhausted and miserable, and his hair is just a mess.

Trucy's quietly scolding Apollo, asking why they came back here, and Apollo says he wasn't going to let Klavier ride his motorcycle in this condition, and Vera sees what he means - he's practically holding the taller man up, and when he lets go, Klavier has to hold onto the wall to steady himself. He stops Trucy and Apollo's hushed argument by interjecting something too garbled for Vera to make out from her place on the couch, and suddenly hugging Trucy. She hugs him back, and buries her face in his shoulder, and Vera feels like an outsider, like she shouldn't be watching this.

Apollo looks at her apologetically, and suggests that maybe Klavier should take the couch. Vera gets up as Apollo and Trucy steer him in that direction, and now that Vera's getting a good look at his face, he looks completely broken. He stares at her for a moment before a light comes into his eyes, and he murmurs something that sounds apologetic before reaching out for her.

She wants to shrink back. She barely knows him, and she knows he's not acting like himself, and there's a strong smell on his breath that she can't quite identify until she thinks about what she's seen and realizes he must have been drinking. But there was a single similarity between him and his brother before, they both had confidence in their eyes - and it's not there anymore. What she sees in his eyes instead is pain and grief and guilt.

One of his arms is still around Trucy, and she lets the other wrap around her too as they settle him on the couch. Trucy's crying quietly, and Klavier's murmuring things that Vera can't understand. She's not sure how much she can't understand because his speech is slurred and how much she can't understand because it's not in a language she knows, but the words sound earnest and miserable, so she squeezes him back, and they stay there for awhile - Trucy and herself on either side of Klavier, holding him as he mumbles, while Apollo sits on the arm of the couch, looking awkwardly concerned for all three. Vera doesn't understand why she's a part of this, but it seems important. It seems to help.

Later, after Apollo's insisted that they should all go get some sleep, he explains to Vera. Mr. Gavin's sentencing was that afternoon, and he was sentenced to death. Klavier's all torn up about it, but not just because his brother is going to die - it's more because his brother caused so many people so much pain. People like Trucy, and like her.

Vera looks back at Klavier lying there on the couch, already gracelessly face-down and unconscious, and doesn't see any resemblance to his brother at all anymore. She was right the second time about his brother: Mr. Gavin was a devil. But this is what an angel should look like, she thought - much like a devil, but soul-wounded and tear-streaked from seeing so much pain in the world.

She sits up a little longer and draws in the dim light through the office window, and doesn't show anyone that page of her sketchbook.

Vera's inspiration is overflowing. She's busy painting the things she's seen with the help of her friends, and the things she'd never comprehended before she saw what life was like outside the studio. Sometimes her paintings look like real things and people, sometimes they're merely broad strokes of color, and sometimes they're somewhere in between. She's painting flowers and angels and smiles. If anyone were there to see, they'd see that she was painting lots of different smiles - flashy ones and sly, secretive ones and exuberant ones and awkward, self-conscious ones.

She keeps forgetting to eat, and puts off sleep until she finds herself unable to open the tubes of paint, forgetting which way they unscrew. When people call, she tells them she's busy with her art. She's seen so much all of a sudden, it seems like if she doesn't get it all down on paper and canvas, she'll forget. Once or twice Trucy convinces her to come out for lunch, but Vera spends the whole time wishing she were at home with her brushes.

One day she's interrupted by a knock on the door. Mr. Wright is there, with a strange man he says is a friend of his. This one is louder and more excitable than any of them Vera's met before, though Mr. Wright says he's mellowed some from the way he used to be. Vera doesn't care how loud he is, because she recognizes the smell that clings to his skin, the smudges that stain his pants. He's an artist - he worked with a well-known children's book author once upon a time, he says. Vera's shocked - she remembers that book, and Mr. Wright knows Elise Deauxnim's apprentice? Mr. Wright finds this really funny for some reason, but says they've known each other since they were kids.

Mr. Butz (which is neither what Mr. Wright calls him, or the apparent stage name Mr. Butz prefers) says he knows some really great places to paint, really bright and colorful and laid-back - and maybe she'd like to try them out sometime?

Vera's never painted anywhere but in the studio, and isn't so sure - isn't a studio where an artist paints? Mr. Butz says a real artist should be able to paint anytime, anywhere, and though Vera's not sure about that, the idea is intriguing. Mr. Wright says he'll come with them, and then Vera decides to take them up on the offer. It's not as if she doesn't trust Mr. Wright to have good friends, but she doesn't want to go somewhere with a man she doesn't know.

After they've gathered up easel and canvas and a big box of paints, they head for the bus stop. Vera didn't care for her first experience with the bus, but Mr. Wright says it's too far to walk carrying a bunch of equipment, so she steels herself and steps aboard.

This time it's easier. She's used to people being close to her, often enough closer than this, and the chatter from Mr. Butz is confusing in a pleasantly distracting way. He's saying things to her that sound nice, and she's not sure why Mr. Wright is telling Mr. Butz how old she is. It takes some time before she gets it, and then she feels her face getting warm - she's never had anyone speak like that to her before. Mr. Wright tells her not to pay any attention to him, and she's not; she's wondering if her cheeks look like Apollo's when he blushes.

The bus lets them off underneath a blue sky, next to a gigantic building. Mr. Butz says it's good painting weather, and Mr. Wright tells him he sounds like Trucy as they lead the way down past the building into a wide open area, with fountains and steps and grassy lawns. They stop in the middle of the grass, and Vera's not sure they should be there - it seems like it must be private property. But there are kids running past, playing games, and people sitting on the lawns, talking or reading. Mr. Butz starts to set up his easel, and as Vera does likewise, Mr. Wright flops down on his back in the grass and closes his eyes. He looks like a big kid himself, Vera thinks with amusement. A few minutes of inspiration later, she has a charcoal sketch of him, and she's glad she ventured out - she wouldn't wanted to have missed this.

She's surprised when she brings out her paints and finds that some of the colors look different than they usually do. Mr. Butz says it's because natural sunlight makes colors look different than they do under artificial light, and suddenly Vera wonders what the paintings she made in the studio look like in a place like this, where everything's brighter.

She's laid the first few broad layers of color down, blue and green and grey, and is starting to shade when Mr. Wright (who seems to have figured out why she's looking at him, given how still he's been lying) raises an arm briefly to point. Vera's been tuning out the sound of voices around her to the point that she didn't even realize that she recognized some of them. Well, one of them. She's hardly spoken to Klavier, but he's strolling past the fountains with Apollo. Even Vera's a little surprised when she raises an arm and waves broadly to get their attention.

Shortly thereafter, she's revised her initial sketch and is adding purple and black and red and white to the two additional figures beside Mr. Wright in the grass - Apollo seated cross-legged, Klavier sprawled out with arms and legs extended, like he's embracing the world. He looks much better than he did the last time Vera saw him, and even though he has his hair back in a spiral, she can't see anything of his brother in him after she saw him so completely unguarded, just the base image of him.

He's talking about how he wants to be onstage again. Apollo saw him onstage at the giant building over there, he says, but the concert ended prematurely. Vera glances over at the building, and asks how many people there were in a building that size. He tells her, and she drops her paintbrush. Even being near so many people, let alone up in front of them... But he says he misses it.

He asks Apollo - if he started a solo career, would he come to the concert? Apollo grumbles about less instruments probably not being any less loud, knowing him, but admits someone would have to be there to look out for Trucy. This admission doesn't come as grudgingly as it probably should, and Klavier grins. Then he looks up to Vera, and asks if she would come.

Vera looks at the coliseum, so much bigger than anywhere she's ever been, and starts to shake her head. Then she remembers how terrified she was when she walked into the Wonder Bar - and what an amazing time she had when she got over it.

She's going to Trucy's shows at the Wonder Bar at least once a week now. The panic when she hears the noise of the crowd inside is easier to shove down into the back of her mind after she's been there a few times, and one day she decides to try to go alone, without asking Apollo or Mr. Wright to come with her.

She lasts all of thirty seconds before she ducks back outside, and finds an alley to curl up in and cry.

Being a performer seems like a whole different world than the one Vera knows, and even different than the one she's been slowly coming to learn about. Trucy says, as Vera's walking her home from school, that she was thinking about getting some new outfits - maybe something a little more grown up, a little more glamourous. So if Vera was up to going to the mall today... Vera thinks she is, and lets Trucy plan their route. Buses are somehow all right now, since she's been taking them to the coliseum grounds to paint sometimes, and Vera actually has been wondering if there was something really, really wrong with the bus she rode home from the hospital, since that one was so horrible.

The mall is confusing. Vera doesn't know how anyone ever can remember where any particular store is when there are so many of them, but Trucy takes her by the hand so she won't be lost in the crowd, and leads her around, showing Vera her favorites. She watches Trucy try on clothes and spin and pose by the dressing rooms (sometimes with her hat, sometimes twirling a magic wand) with amusement. Trucy always looks like she thinks she's onstage, or maybe on television. Vera's certainly never seen anyone wear these kinds of outfits except on television, and only on certain kinds of shows. She sparkles, and glitters, and it fits her.

Perfectly content to just provide opinions on Trucy's potential new outfits, Vera's surprised when Trucy pushes a bunch of hangers into her hand, draped with clothes that aren't in her size. It seems, to Trucy's eye, that Vera doesn't have a whole lot of clothes. Maybe she should try some on herself? Vera says she has plenty, but Trucy insists that it's fun - even when you're not really going to buy anything. Vera wonders if that's kind of a rude thing to do to the store employees, but Trucy doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with it.

She and Trucy are trying on the same skirt, and Vera wonders how the skirt looks so much shorter when it's on her than it does when it's on Trucy. They both have the right size, but Trucy looks natural in it - she feels kind of silly. The strapless top feels like it's going to fall down, even though Trucy assures her she's got more of a chest to hold it up right. Still, outside of the cubicle in the dressing room, she keeps reaching up to make sure it's still in place. Trucy looks thoughtful, then grins and tells her she knows a store Vera might like better.

Within a few minutes, Trucy's pushing another armful of garments at Vera, and telling her to go try some of them on. There are long flowing skirts, soft sweaters, pants that flare into ruffles at the ankles... They're not things Vera would ever have thought to wear - they're too nice to paint in - but now she kind of looks like she could be on television, too.

Feeling a little like she's playing dress-up (and surely she's too old for that), Vera steps out of the cubicle, and Trucy's eyes widen. After looking at herself from a few angles in the full-length mirror, however, Vera realizes she could do better, and goes to look at racks of belts and scarves and jewelry. It's like painting - anyone can make shapes and colors, but Vera knows how to add detail and texture and accents in just the right places.

With Trucy's encouragement, Vera leaves the store with a big bag of new clothes, the first new clothes she's had since she stopped growing - but then Trucy realizes she still hasn't bought anything. And maybe she won't, she moans, because the outfit she really liked at the other store was too expensive for her until her next paycheck comes in.

Vera has been amazed all day at how little all these clothes cost compared to the money she took out from the bank a week ago, so she asks Trucy which outfit it was. Fifteen minutes later, Trucy has a big bag hanging off her arm as well, and an even bigger smile as she hugs Vera and bounces and suggests they change into their new outfits in the mall bathroom before heading home.

Trucy's covered with glittery stripes and gold accents, and Vera feels somewhat plain next to her in simply a snug knit top and billowy ankle-length skirt and matching scarf around her throat. They're certainly getting looked at by a lot of people on the bus, and on the street as they make their way to the office, but Vera's sure they're all looking at Trucy. Mr. Wright raises an eyebrow as they enter, but doesn't say anything except that they both look very nice.

Trucy's in the bathroom, though, when Apollo gets home - and despite the absence of her sparkliness, he does a double-take and gives Vera very much the same look that many of the people on the bus were giving the two of them. Vera decides that she doesn't mind, if it's him.

She goes with Apollo and Mr. Wright to see Trucy's first show debuting the new outfit she bought. Trucy is glad to see her - it seems like forever since she's come to a show. Vera doesn't tell her that she's been at the Wonder Bar many times in the past two weeks, but has never managed to stay long enough to see her perform. Instead, she claims to be busy painting, and Mr. Wright says that's fine - as long as she's not sitting home all alone.

She'd rather be sitting home all alone than sitting in the alley all alone.

She tries again a few days later. Someone laughs loudly right behind her as she's passing the bar, and again she flees, shoving her way through the crowd to the door.

Standing there outside, hunched over and trying to catch her breath, she hears an unfamiliar voice shout, and looks up to see a strange man, a little older than she is, coming over to ask if she's all right. He tries to put an arm around her, and she can't deal with that at all.

She runs blind until someone grabs her shoulders. She struggles, then covers her head when she can't break free, then realizes it's Apollo. Instinctively, she'd started running towards Mr. Wright's office, and Apollo was coming to see the night's show himself. Apollo asks if something's wrong, and there is.

Everything comes out at once, tears and words and frustrations and the clenching of fists against his chest. She can't do it. She just can't find a way to fit in, not even enough to do basic things, not enough to do the things she really wants to do.

Apollo just listens, and holds her until she's finished. Finally he tells her that's fine.

It's not fine. But he insists that it is. She doesn't have to fit in perfectly. Lots of people don't. Trucy doesn't fit in at all, and neither does Mr. Wright, and Apollo's spent most of his life feeling like he doesn't fit anywhere either. At least, he remarks wryly, she has her studio to retreat to when it gets to be too much. He wishes he'd ever had a place that was really his.

Vera doesn't understand. They're so normal - they just do whatever they want to do, without thinking much of it - but Apollo says that doesn't make them normal. In fact, everyone's weird in some way or another, he says with a little smile.

Vera's still discouraged. She can't make herself do something that everyone else can do, and she doesn't even have a magic charm to help her anymore.

Apollo shakes his head, looking serious, and tells her she does. A magic charm is something that makes you able to do things that you can't do alone, isn't it? And she has Trucy, and Mr. Wright, and everyone else that's supported her, helping her do the things she can't do alone. Even if she can't do everything without a magic charm, that's all right, because this kind of charm is something that isn't going to disappear, and it works even if they're not right there touching her. All she has to do is look at them.

And if she wants to think of it that way, he tells her... he'll be her charm tonight. If she still wants to go to the show.

She's silent for a time. Eventually she sighs. She does. Apollo takes her hand, and they start back towards the Wonder Bar.

Trucy's already onstage once they've arrived, and everyone's attention is on her, not on the two stragglers coming in late and making their way to the table up front. Except for Trucy, who spares a moment to give her a grin during a round of applause. Already Vera's considering what Apollo said, about them being her magic charm, even if she's only looking at them. And what better magic charm could she possibly have, she realizes, than a Gramarye?

...She thinks she believes him.

To everyone's surprise, when Trucy asks for a volunteer, she raises her hand.

The bright lights pointed at the stage are blinding, and Vera can't even see more than a few feet past the edge of it, which is probably a good thing, because she can't prove to herself that there are so many people watching. Trucy's beaming even brighter than usual, and Vera realizes as she's being ushered over towards the props that the light touches to her hand and shoulder and hip aren't just touches - Trucy's slipping things to her, chatting away all the time so no one will notice. For a moment, Vera's surprised - she knew that no normal people could do the things Trucy did except through trickery, but she's a Gramarye. Wasn't her magic supposed to be real?

Then she remembers what Trucy said about confidence being the most important part of magic. In that way, her magic is real, Vera decides, and finds herself smiling as Trucy hands her the magic wand.

Flowers are blooming everywhere. Confidence is magic. It is Vera who's making it happen, because she had the confidence to go back to the Wonder Bar, and to raise her hand, and to step onto the stage. Trucy and Apollo and Mr. Wright and Klavier and Mr. Butz and everyone else gave her magic.

She stands there, dazed, as the audience cheers, and doesn't want it to ever end.

At home, she stays up all night painting a picture of the bouquet she and Trucy made, on the largest canvas she owns, artificial though the flowers may be. She puts them in her room, except for one small purple blossom she plucks from the back. The stem is of a size that she can tuck it behind her ear whenever she goes out.

It's not a new magic charm - it's only a reminder that she has her own magic now.

She's gotten the idea by now that the reason everyone was so surprised about her father's bank accounts was because her father had more money than most people, due to frugal living and the large amount of money he received for his artwork and her forgeries. She still has more money than most people, but with each month that passes, she sees that the numbers on her bank statement are going down. She's in no danger of running out of money right away... but the numbers are going down, with no money coming in. If she lets it continue, eventually there will be nothing left.

Which means that she's going to have to get a job.

Which means that she's going to have to go out and ask for job applications, and go to interviews.

And if she gets a job, she'll have to leave the studio and go to that job and talk to people every day that they need her, regardless of how she feels.

Just having confidence, and the flower tucked behind her ear to remind herself of the magic she now possesses, doesn't solve everything. She's still scared when someone's too loud, or if someone touches her unexpectedly. She still fears getting lost in crowds. Some days she just really wants to be alone, in her studio, without the possibility of having to associate with anyone at all. She doesn't think a job will work out very well. Especially since she's taken a few applications already, and realizes that she doesn't have any formal education or work history.

She turns in an application at the grocery store, and spends the rest of the day at the coliseum painting by herself, trying not to think about what she's just done and what's going to happen if it works.

While she's trying to mix just the right shade of warm grey, she hears screams from the direction of the parking lot, and turns with a start and her heart in her throat to see a group of girls about Trucy's age, all clustered around something. After a moment, she realizes it's a motorcycle - and then she recognizes the motorcycle, and knows why they're screaming. She doesn't understand how Klavier can stand that sort of reaction, and supposes she never will.

After the girls have gotten autographs and photos on their cell phones, they back off and just watch him, as he comes down the wide concrete steps into the area where Vera's painting. She watches him too, not having expected he'd be coming to see her.

As it turns out, that wasn't his intention, or so he says. He was going to be performing at the coliseum again in a few months, if his agent got an appropriately profitable deal, and wanted to come have a look at the remodeled backstage area. But he'd been meaning to ask her something one of these days, anyway...

He wants to know if she'd be interested in doing the artwork for the cover of his comeback solo album. A painting, or just a photomanipulation. The theme, he says, is rising above and moving on. Escaping the past, new beginnings, rebirth... that sort of thing. Trucy and Apollo have spoken well of her artwork, and he's curious to see what she might do. She'd be reimbursed, of course.

That evening, Vera pulls out the sketchbook she'd taken to the Wrights', and some of the paintings she's made since, and finds the Gavinners' previous album covers online, and begins a new picture. At first, she's intending to just make a sketch to show Klavier, to see if he likes the concept. Once she starts, however, she finds that she can't stop.

The next afternoon, after she wakes up late from an entire night of painting, she calls Mr. Wright and asks if he has Klavier's number. He doesn't, but he has Apollo's number - and not only does Apollo have Klavier's number, but he should be facing him in court at the moment.

Vera leaves a message with Apollo's voicemail, and two hours later, Klavier shows up with Apollo and Trucy. Apparently Apollo won, but Klavier doesn't seem to mind, and he says that seeing his potential album cover should be enough to fix his wounded pride. Apollo comments that even when wounded, Klavier's pride is stronger than any normal person's, and Klavier just laughs as Vera shows them in, and leads them to the canvas she worked on until the early morning.

Klavier just stops and stares, and Vera wonders if she's done something wrong. But then he looks over to her, and the side of his mouth turns up in a wondering smile. She's hired.

The number he offers as the initial payment isn't as large as some of the payments her father got for her work, and the amount he says she'll get per album sold doesn't sound like much. Until Trucy tells her how many copies the Gavinners' last album sold. And, Klavier adds, he's taking them all out to dinner to celebrate. This time, Vera thinks it's all right.

Even when a group of strangers with cameras pop up and take pictures of all of them without asking while they're trying to eat dessert, Vera thinks it's all right.

A few weeks later, Trucy calls Vera, and Vera can almost hear the giggle in her voice as Trucy tells her to come over. She has something she thinks Vera should see.

Klavier's website unveiled his new album cover, with her painting and her retouching and her careful lettering of his name on the digital copy. The fans' reaction seems to be overall positive, judging from the forums that Trucy shows her. People like the artwork. People want to know who is this Vera Misham who did the artwork.

This is what Trucy wanted her to see, and she's pleased. She reads down further, finding replies - and is startled when she finds that people have posted more things about her. They're talking about how she's the daughter of the famous artist Drew Misham, and was tried for his recent murder - and Klavier met her because he was prosecuting the case, but she was found not guilty. And people are saying all kinds of nice things about how great Klavier is, for being able to befriend people he's put on trial, and how symbolic it is then that she's broken free of her assumed guilt just like Klavier broke free of his associations with his brother and his old bandmate.

But they're posting pictures of her in the courtroom, and coming out of the courthouse. Vera hadn't realized that so many people knew who she was. And then she finds that someone linked to the pictures of her and Trucy and Apollo and Klavier out to dinner that one night, and they're suggesting things that aren't true about any of them.

She asks Mr. Wright, biting her nails, if she can stay the night. Mr. Wright sighs and gives Trucy a look, muttering something about how maybe Trucy should have thought this through a little more, and Trucy's face falls. But he says yes, and thank goodness - Vera knows she's safe at their office. But how many people she doesn't even know, she wonders, know who she is, where the studio is? How many of them might see her on the street and recognize her?

She's not even sure what she's so afraid of. Even so, after Apollo walks her home the next day (and this is humiliating, because she hasn't needed their help getting home in so long), she locks the doors and jumps at every little sound.

She doesn't want to go out again. Not to see Trucy's show, not to buy groceries - not at all. Trucy comes by, Apollo sometimes stops in, Mr. Wright calls her, even Mr. Butz. She doesn't want to leave the studio, no matter what they're offering. It's not something that can be helped by having confidence, by having friends. It's about the fact that there are so many people who actually seem to be looking for her, and they obviously know how to find her.

After a week of this, there's a knock on the door that's so sharp it startles her, and she knows it's not one of them. It's not - it's Klavier, and he invites himself in casually as soon as she opens the door. He says he has a surprise for her.

But first, he goes off on a tangent. Fan enthusiasm for his new album is way up, and he's got a plan to make it even more exciting, he says. There's an awards show coming up in a month, at the coliseum, and he's going to be performing live there, with Lamiroir again. That's exciting enough, but the show is scheduled to end at eight that night, and his album was scheduled to be released at midnight - meaning that an hour after the show is over, the album would be available on the east coast. His manager negotiated an exclusive deal with a couple of nationwide chain stores, giving them the right to release it simultaneously across the country at that time, so people can see him rock out live, then go buy his album when the show is over.

This is all well and good, but Vera's not sure why he's telling her this. Not until he pulls something out of his pocket, thin plastic on a thin chain, and tells her he's having a private release party right after the awards show. As the one who created the cover art, she's invited to both the show and the party.

He dangles the card on its chain before her, and he's smiling so brightly that she wishes she could say yes. But she can't. It's the last thing she thinks she should do.

His smile dims as he draws his hand back and settles down on the bench before the easel, his head framed by one of her own paintings. He knows what happened; Apollo told him what's going on, what she read. Looking up at her, he assures her it's safe - people are always recognizing him, everywhere he goes, often even in other countries. And sure, they analyze everything he's seen doing in public, and they gossip, and sometimes they swarm around him, but they don't mean any harm. In fact, he thinks it's fun.

Vera disagrees, but Klavier insists that she should come. The police themselves provide security at his concerts, so it's extra safe. Nothing could happen to her. Apollo and Trucy will be there too, so she won't be alone, and a release party watched over by security guards with law enforcement training would be the best place for her to meet her fans and answer their questions.

It makes sense, but she feels dizzy just thinking about it. He asks again, and says please. That brilliant smile beams up at her and he takes her hand and tells her that he'll personally take responsibility for her safety - so will she please come?

She can't say anything but yes to that earnest look on his face. She can always change her mind, she thinks as he rises to slip the chain over her head, grinning even wider as he tugs her hair out from beneath it and settles his hands on her shoulders proudly.

Before he leaves, he points out that someone else she knows is something of a celebrity too, if only locally so far. Trucy's been performing her magic acts since she was a little girl, and has a large fan following. And has she ever been hurt?

It's something for Vera to think about. It also gives her another reason to call, besides apologizing. Trucy assures her it's okay, and her daddy was right, she should have realized that seeing that would make her uncomfortable. But on the other hand, it's better than if she'd gone out as usual and all of a sudden had someone ask her for an autograph or to take a picture with her or whether it was true she was dating Klavier Gavin - right? Vera has to admit she's right. She'd have no idea what to say or do to something like that. Trucy tells her now she can think about it and be prepared.

That is, of course, assuming that Vera's not going to go back to hiding forever. Trucy says it so casually that Vera feels kind of silly, and has to ask what it's like to know that all around her, there are people who know who she is and have opinions about her. Trucy swears it's not so bad - sometimes they get things wrong, but the ones that don't like her act don't really say anything, just ignore her. It's the ones who like her who come up and say hi, and then it's not like she has to try to protect herself against them or anything like that. If anything, they'd be willing to help her if she was in trouble, and knowing that is actually kind of comforting.

Vera somehow hadn't thought of it like that. All the time her father had hidden her away from the outside world, he'd definitely kept her safe from anyone who would hurt her. But he wasn't the only person who could keep her safe... Trucy and Apollo and Mr. Wright helped now, and Klavier had promised her safety was in his own hands at the concert and party, if she went...

She asks Trucy if she and Apollo are going, like Klavier said they were. Trucy admits they'd like to, and Klavier sent them VIP passes and everything, just like he did before... but he has this habit of following up by sending them a bill. And this awards show is really exclusive, and really expensive.

Vera thinks about it that night, as she's trying to sleep. The next day when she goes over to the office (which she does, and even if it feels like she's taken a dozen steps backwards it's another step forward), she asks to see what Klavier sent them. Before Apollo can protest, she's on the phone paying the bill with her credit card. After all, it's far less than the payment she already received for the album cover, which is only the beginning - and if she's going, they have to go with her. Klavier might be willing to provide security, but she needs her magic charm.

Apollo stands there with his mouth hanging open, and Trucy squeals and attacks her with a giant hug. Mr. Wright is more subdued, and asks her if she's really willing to go to an event this big.

As it stands, no. But she'll try to learn to be.

She prepares by going to shows at the Wonder Bar on a regular basis. The first night she's back, one of the men who mixes drinks asks her where she's been, and Vera realizes abruptly that people already did notice her presence, even before she became associated with Klavier.

There's a girl staring at her from another table a few days later, and Vera can feel that stare even when she turns her head, and it scares her. She's about to ask Apollo if he can walk her home right that moment, when the girl gets up and actually approaches the table, asking nervously if she's Vera Misham. Vera realizes that this other girl is scared too, and suddenly feels much better about nodding. The girl says she loves the picture she did for Klavier's album cover, and she just ordered a poster of it for her dorm room - was Vera going to be at the Wonder Bar again soon? She'd love it so much if she could get the poster autographed...

An affirmative answer makes the girl squeal in excitement, just like Trucy did when Vera paid for the passes, and Vera realizes that she's almost just as happy, being able to make this stranger happy. Later on, when she tells the story to Trucy after the show, Trucy says that's exactly why she likes performing - it makes people happy.

The next night, when she autographs the poster for the girl who asked (and adds a little sketch of a flower beside her name, because it just feels right), a few other people come up to the table, realizing who she is. They want her to autograph their copy of the album cover when it comes out, if she'll still be around...?

They want her around. Vera smiles until her face hurts. Yes, she'll try to be around.

It's still the most stressful part of her day. She's always relieved when she steps out into the fresh air, and more so when she can close the door behind her and turn on her familiar lights and watch the familiar shadows appear upon familiar walls. But lately, the shadows have seemed not to be as dark as they should be, or the lights not so bright. There's something missing, or that's what it feels like, and Vera thinks that maybe they've become lonely.

As relieved as she is when she comes home from an evening out, she wakes up the next morning and thinks of the girl at the grocery store who bags her groceries and talks to her about novels they've both read, and the teller at the bank who greets her by name and pulls up Vera's information before she reaches the counter, and the little boy at the coliseum lawn who sat and watched her paint by the fountain for a few days before he started bringing his own sketchbook - not to mention all the people who she knows by name.

Out in the sunlight, and the bright flourescents of stores and businesses, the shadows shift and change and come and go - but they're deep and dark and never lonely.

Trucy calls and warns her not to wear a dress to the show. This leaves Vera a little lost, because now that she's buying her own clothes, she's found that she really likes long loose skirts. Trucy insists that it's a bad idea, unless the skirt's tight enough that it's not going to easily budge - you never know what's going to happen at a concert when you're out on the floor dancing - but Vera doesn't have skirts like that. And she's not sure she's likely to dance. Even so, she puts away the skirt she was going to wear, and substitutes a pair of pants with a nice ruffly flare at the bottom; they used to be plain white, but she's found that she likes to give her clothes her own special touch, and has dyed them in a blue-to-purple gradient since the last time Trucy saw them, to match the scarf that's tying back her hair in a loose ponytail.

Trucy tells her she looks adorable when she arrives at the office. Apollo looks distracted, and grunts faintly as Mr. Wright gives him a nudge out the door towards the two girls. Mr Wright then raises his hand to wave, telling them all not to do anything he wouldn't do.

On the bus, Trucy's chatting with a few other girls about her age, who are also going to the show. They're all incredibly impressed by the pass hanging around Trucy's neck - they'll just be up in the general admission area somewhere. Trucy winds up with their contact information, and a couple CDs that she promises to have Klavier autograph for them.

Vera still doesn't get it, how Trucy can just trust other people so easily. She would wonder how they could trust Trucy so easily, too, but even though she doesn't know much about trusting people yet, Trucy's somehow easy to trust. Apollo too, even though he's not talking so much except to mutter about the girls' squealing being a preview of the pain his ears are going to be in. When Vera asks if he'd rather not go, however, he just smiles at her and says it's okay.

There are more people outside the coliseum than Vera's ever seen in her life, gathered in a few different places. The main entrance is one of them, and has the largest crowd. Vera doesn't want to be a part of that, and if Trucy and Apollo hadn't each been holding one of her hands, she'd be biting her nails at the thought. Without her even saying anything, Apollo squeezes her hand and tells her there's a special entrance for people with the passes they carry.

Before they get there, Trucy realizes what one of the other large gatherings is about; it's the red carpet, where all the performers and nominees and other celebrities are entering, and there are tons of people looking to get a glimpse of their favorites, seeing what they're wearing, taking pictures, trying to get their attention... Trucy decides she wants to have a look too, and before Apollo is finished with his objection, off she goes. Apollo and Vera exchange glances, and Apollo finally shrugs. Trucy's a responsible girl for her age, and he knows where they'll be able to find each other again. Now it's just the two of them, holding hands as he navigates the exterior of the building and finds a side stage entrance where someone's checking the VIP passes.

Backstage, everyone's rushing around like mad, but Apollo knows where to go, and guides her through the chaos to one of the dressing rooms. It's moderately calmer in there, and Klavier looks entirely relaxed compared to everyone else Vera's seen since entering. He tells them to have a seat, have a drink, even as he fiddles with the tuning on the guitar he'll be playing later.

He and Apollo talk about the last case he prosecuted, while Vera just looks around, taking in the atmosphere, wondering why Klavier has so much makeup on when he looks just fine without it. Her eyes go to the massive pile of cosmetics by the mirror, and when Klavier notices, he laughs. She must be bored - would she like a makeup job too? She's not so sure about this, but he swears he can make her look even more beautiful than she already does, and she decides she can indulge him...

Klavier keeps on chatting away with Apollo in between the occasional request for Vera to close her eyes or purse her lips or tilt her head, and then Trucy comes in and exclaims that Vera looks amazing. Apollo looks up and chokes on the water he's drinking. Trucy laughs at him.

The show's about to begin, though, and even though Klavier's not going to be on for awhile, he needs to get to the green room anyway. Lamiroir is already there, but they can talk to her at the party if they stay. Vera thinks she'll wait and see how she feels after the show, but so far everything's going okay.

Things are less okay when she and Trucy and Apollo pass through a big set of double doors from backstage to the arena proper, and everybody in the whole world seems to have crowded into one building. Vera freezes, and Trucy looks dismayed, but Apollo puts an arm around her shoulders and leans in close so she can hear him over the noise. He'd noticed that she still gets nervous every time she walks into the Wonder Bar, but once they get to their table up front so she's not looking at how many people there are, she's fine - even though she's surrounded by people. So if they just go up front, and she keeps her eyes on the stage, she'll be fine.

Trucy hugs her too, unable to hear what Apollo was saying, but she sees Vera's nod. They start for the front of the arena, where there are no seats, just a lot of people standing. There are security guards right there too, between the crowd and the stage, and that makes Vera feel better. She follows Apollo's advice and just looks up at the stage, letting all the chatter of the audience blur into background noise as she considers the artistic direction of the backdrops, and spots other backdrops waiting in the wings to be switched out.

She's momentarily startled when something large lands on her head - it's a giant beach ball sporting a purple stylized G, being bounced around atop the crowd, and Apollo sends it flying to the other side of the stage with a mighty punch. Except that someone punches it back, and then Vera's ducking and Trucy's laughing uncontrollably as Apollo and some random stranger keep hitting it back and forth to each other. Apollo complains a little about people who just don't know when to take a hint, once the ball bounces straight up in the air and lands somewhere else, but Vera can see the smug smile he's trying to hide.

She clings to his arm, nearly passing out, when everything goes dark, except for jets of fire flaring at the sides of the stage as a loud boom echoes through the hall. Everyone's screaming, and she thinks something's gone wrong, until the booming resolves itself into a rhythm and she spots people running onto the stage before them, carrying microphones and musical instruments. Trucy's screaming just like the rest of the audience, but Apollo's using the hand that Vera's not clinging to to plug one of his ears. Vera thinks she should do likewise, if her hearing hasn't already been permanently damaged by the speakers overhead, but has to let go to do so.

Gradually, throughout the course of the show, her ears seem to adjust to the level of noise. And there are all these people just twenty feet in front of her that she's seen on television, or in the paper, and they're just... there. They're just people, even if some of them are wearing bizarre outfits that make Vera think of plants or animals or monsters. She wishes she had her sketchbook. Once, she's distracted from the interesting sights by an exclamation from Apollo, loud enough she can hear it over the music coming from the speakers, and she turns to see a shoe back away from his head - she glances up and back and sees a girl being passed over the crowd behind them, waving apologetically for having kicked him in the head.

During one of the award presentations, Vera spots movement behind the gauzy curtain that dropped down in the middle of the stage. From her position, so close, she can see the people filing behind it from the far side of the stage, pushing equipment, carrying instruments, most of them wearing tuxedos or black gowns. Not knowing much about the person who's receiving the award in question, Vera keeps watching the backstage action until she sees someone familiar - it's Klavier, talking to someone that she can't see, looking very serious... until he slings the guitar strap over his head and grins.

It's no surprise, then, when after the acceptance speech is finished and the crowd's applause has died down, that the emcee announces that next up is a musical interlude, and the curtain goes up to reveal a full orchestra at the back of the stage, playing the opening swell as Klavier stands before them, center stage, his guitar providing the melody for the accompaniment as he slowly advances towards the edge of the stage. Everyone around Vera is screaming (except Apollo) and stretching out their hands towards him - but he's concentrating so hard, he doesn't seem to notice.

He must have, though, because as he steps aside after a screaming crescendo, he leans down and gives some of his fans a high-five. Few are paying attention, though, because Lamiroir is making her appearance, gliding onto the stage in a sparkling white gown with a long, long train. The sound of the audience is as deafening as the sound of the music, but nowhere near as beautiful as Lamiroir's voice, soaring above it all. Vera is entranced - she's heard Lamiroir on the radio before, and her father had one of her CDs, but a live performance is even more amazing. Lamiroir is singing harmony to Klavier's guitar melody, and then they switch, blending together perfectly as they come together, front and center.

Something seems odd to Vera, and she can't quite put her finger on it until Lamiroir is right there, barely ten feet from her. Lamiroir seems familiar, somehow, just from what Vera can see of her eyes and her hair. She's seen a few pictures of her in the past, but for some reason Vera is remembering looking at her without a veil, and can fill in the missing pieces that she can't make out even from this short distance...

It hits her where she's seen Lamiroir before, and her eyes widen. It can't be, but... she spent years making exact duplicates. She knows when things are identical - and people, too.

She's standing there, staring up in amazement at the woman before her, wondering if Trucy and Apollo know (if they do, they haven't said anything), when suddenly her worst nightmare begins to come true.

Someone, definitely not Apollo or Trucy, grabs her arm and yanks her away from the front of the stage, sweeping her off her feet.

She's too startled to scream as she's lifted over the stranger's shoulder, and as her vision starts to go fuzzy, she sees Apollo's shocked expression and his outstretched arm as she's carried away from him, and she knows she's in trouble now, she's going to be kidnapped, she's going to be killed, and more hands are grabbing at her...

Then her head clears, and she realizes where she is. They're lifting her above the crowd, and passing her along overhead, just like the girl she'd seen earlier. This isn't a position she'd wanted to be in, it seemed like it would be hard for anyone to hold her like this, but there are several pairs of hands supporting her, pushing her one way or another, more appearing to hold her up when others are left behind. It seems impossible and unreal that she should be here, and she looks back to see Apollo staring after her in disbelief. Trucy, on the other hand, has what seems like an angry expression at first - but then Vera recognizes it as determination, as she clambers up her brother's back and joyfully tosses herself on top of the crowd with Vera. Fortunately, they catch her, and she grins at Vera. Vera has to smile back as they ride past each other on a sea of hands. It's... okay. Trucy's there, and Apollo's there, and...

The music has picked up, taking a faster pace, and Lamiroir and Klavier are singing the harmonies together while Klavier strums at his guitar. Vera realizes that she has a better view than anyone in the audience, and she lets them carry her along as she turns her head towards the stage, enjoying the show. Lamiroir steps back as Klavier takes the forefront for another complicated guitar solo, his body tensed and focused...

Until he gets to the end of the solo, and looks out at his fans. His guitar makes a bizarre squawking sound as his eyes fall on Vera, being tossed about by the audience like the beach ball had been earlier. The expression on his face makes Vera laugh so hard she can barely breathe, but it turns back to an easy grin quickly enough, and he flashes her a rocker hand gesture of some sort, banging his head once briefly before he starts playing again.

She's still laughing when someone doesn't quite catch her and she starts to slide downwards. Many hands are reaching for her again, but they're offering her help getting up, and she recognizes that now. When Apollo reaches her, his mouth still hanging open, Vera hugs him tight - she's so glad she came, she's never been so glad she wasn't at home alone - and as the music winds down, they look around, trying to figure out where Trucy landed.

The mood backstage after the show is markedly different than the mood backstage before the show, laid-back and congratulatory rather than rushed and nervous. Trucy's showing Klavier the CDs she was given by the girls she met on the bus, and he pulls a silver marker out of his pocket at once, already prepared.

Apollo asks Vera, still rubbing at his ears a little, if she wants to go to the release party. It seems like she should say no, because she's spent more time around more strangers today already than she ever has before - but if she's being honest with herself, this has been the best night of her life since the time her father took her to the Gramarye museum when she was younger.

Which reminds her... She asks Klavier if Lamiroir is going to be at the party, and he nods. All the more reason for Vera to give in and admit she doesn't mind being out at least a little longer. Klavier asks if she's a fan. Vera wonders if he knows.

The party is to be held in a hotel a few miles away, but Klavier has a limo, and says he'd be happy to share. Once Trucy's gotten in touch with the girls from the bus and given them back their CDs (and Klavier surprises them by making a sudden appearance himself as well), she and Apollo and Vera duck out a side exit. Klavier says he has to put in another appearance on the red carpet to plug the album before he joins them, but soon they're off.

There are as many people there as there usually are at the Wonder Bar, but the hotel ballroom is much larger, so it doesn't seem crowded at all to Vera. The whole place is decorated with chandeliers and elaborate woodworking and flower arrangements at the center of every table, and Vera wonders if she's underdressed. Since Klavier's just wearing a half-buttoned shirt and leather pants now, she supposes it's not entirely a formal event. Sure enough, once he arrives, he tells the DJ (apparently one of his band's former sound crew) to give them some energy, and soon there's rock music booming across the area that had been cleared for a dance floor. Trucy's still pumped up from the concert and wants to dance, but Vera's not sure she's up to it and resists the tugging at her hand. That's okay, there are lots of other people already gravitating towards the floor, and Apollo says that this kind of dancing doesn't really require a specific partner anyway. Which is good, because that's his little sister out there, and he has to look out for her.

Vera is considering asking him what he knows about their mother, when out of the corner of her eye she spots someone else arriving, in a white gown that looks appropriate for the decor. She points, and Apollo nods appreciatively. He should go say hello, it's been awhile since he's seen Lamiroir. Vera's fairly sure now that he has no idea.

Apollo lets a different secret slip, though, while the three of them are talking - that Lamiroir used to be blind. She laughs kindly, and says it's all right - she's had surgery to restore her sight, and now she can truly be the 'landscape painter in sound'. In fact, she wonders if Vera would be willing to help her learn to make pictures with paint and canvas as well as with voices and instruments, and Vera's speechless for an entirely different reason than she would have been a few months past.

Lamiroir asks Apollo if he would be a gentleman and get her a drink of water, and he looks pleased to do so, leaving the two women alone. Lamiroir lowers her voice, and tells Vera that she can tell that she knows her secret. Lamiroir is her - really her - and Vera stammers that she's been a fan since she was a little girl. Behind the veil, Lamiroir smiles, and though Vera was already sure, now it's more obvious. Lamiroir asks her, however, not to tell anyone else just yet. She wants to tell Apollo and Trucy herself.

Shortly after Apollo returns with the water, Vera gets another surprise when Mr. Wright appears, with one of the friends of his that she'd met at the office. Apollo expresses surprise that Klavier would invite him, much less Mr. Edgeworth, but Lamiroir says she invited them. Mr. Wright and Lamiroir have something to discuss (Vera suspects she knows what it is, but is a little worried, because she knows Mr. Edgeworth is a lawyer), and the three of them sit down together at one of the corner tables. Which leaves her and Apollo alone again for a moment, until Trucy comes running over and exclaims that they have to have a look at the refreshment table.

After they've all filled a plate and taken a cup, they choose a table for themselves and sit down to enjoy the food. Before Vera's finished, she feels a tap on her shoulder and looks up to see Klavier. There are some people who would like to meet her...

The party isn't huge or public, and mostly the people there are friends of Klavier's and other people from the recording industry, but there are also fans who got lucky and won a ticket, or who were able to buy them through the fan club, or who Klavier just felt like being nice to. Many of them are gathered around a table where Klavier was signing autographs for them, and it's there that he leads Vera. They can sign the new album together, he suggests, handing her a purple marker - to match the flower behind her ear.

Though the fans are there mainly for Klavier, they're pleased to meet her too, and ask her lots of questions - how old is she, how long has she been painting, does she have any other projects underway, what's with the flower, what's her relationship with Klavier, exactly? She isn't sure how best to answer several of their questions, but the last one throws her off completely, given the rumors she saw online, and she stammers that they're just friends. For now, Klavier adds, putting an arm around her shoulder, but he's unwilling to write off the possibility that a pretty girl might fall in love with him. Vera would be flattered, if that female detective camped out by the refreshments hadn't been complaining to Apollo earlier of very much the same behavior.

But she's surprised to find that even if she's not terribly flattered, she's not terribly uncomfortable.

After everyone's gotten their autographs, Klavier seems to relax and drop the celebrity routine somewhat, finding some food himself and settling down at the table that Apollo and Vera and Trucy had taken earlier. The whole party seems more relaxed, in fact, now that it's late. Except for Apollo, who seems distracted and a little jumpy. In fact, after Trucy turns to him and observes that the DJ's started playing slow rock ballads in addition to the faster-paced stuff, he literally jumps. Trucy twitched strangely just before that, and now she's smirking. Vera thinks she kicked him under the table.

She doesn't know why, though, until Apollo turns to her, his cheeks reddening, and asks if she wants to dance. ...Oh.

Vera hesitates. She doesn't want to say no, but... she has to admit that she doesn't know how to dance. Trucy says that's fine, because it's a slow song, and slow dancing is really easy - you just kind of hug each other and sway. Vera's not so sure, and Apollo mumbles that that's okay, she doesn't have to - but then Trucy proclaims that she and Mr. Gavin can give them a demonstration. Klavier seems a little startled as Trucy grabs his hand and tugs at it, but recovers quickly and gets to his feet. After all, who is he to refuse a dance to one of his pretty frauleins?

Vera and Apollo are left looking at each other, and it's fine with him if she doesn't want to, but she thinks she does.

What Klavier and Trucy are doing at the edge of the dance floor looks simple enough, just leaning and turning (and Trucy sticks her tongue out mischievously and flashes Vera a V for victory), but Vera finds that she's not sure where to put her hands. They wind up on Apollo's waist, and his hands on her waist, and that works well enough. It's awkward, though, to be deliberately so close to someone, and he seems to feel the same way, asking in a mumble if she's having a good time, and she nods.

She is having a good time, and she moves her arms upwards instead, crossing her wrists behind his neck and leaning against his shoulder. He misses a beat, but then his arms tighten around her back. She can't remember ever feeling so safe and comfortable in her entire life.

When the song's over, a faster one starts, and somehow she winds up dancing with Trucy and Klavier all together, though Apollo insists on sitting it out. She doesn't know what she's doing, though Trucy tries to show her some moves and Klavier says it doesn't matter what you do as long as you're moving to the beat. He excuses himself at the next slow number, saying he wants to try to get the Fraulein Detective out on the dance floor too. Trucy's not done dancing yet, though, so this time it's her that Vera's snuggled up against, and it's nice in a different way because Trucy's not so awkward about it as Apollo, even if she's not so large and solid.

Trucy giggles when she sees Mr. Wright standing by, grinning and making gestures towards the dance floor. Mr. Edgeworth has his arms folded and is shaking his head sternly, so Trucy decides to go ask her daddy if he'd like to dance with her instead. Vera's a little lost, until Klavier steps in. He moves like a cat, easy and graceful, and shows her how to spin; dancing with Klavier is fun.

Then Apollo's there, asking if he could cut in? Klavier says that of course he can - and pulls him into a swaying embrace himself. Vera laughs as Apollo sputters, but Klavier doesn't let go, and eventually Apollo just sighs in exasperation and lets Klavier dance him around the floor until the song ends, and he can dance with Vera again.

Vera doesn't ever want to go home, and she can't remember ever not wanting to go home before.

But she has to, at some point. When the party's wound down, in the early hours of the morning, Klavier has his limo drop everyone off at their homes. Vera is alone, confronted with her paints and her canvases, and she considers...

But the only thing she leaves on the canvas before falling into her bed is a huge charcoal smile that still can't compare to the one she's wearing.

Going home doesn't mean she has to stay there.